Tuesday, August 09, 2005

nothing matters when we're dancing

Even though they call it Midsummer Night Swing, and I took swing dancing classes for two years, I found myself more often than not going to Lincoln Center's MNS at times when Latin music was the order of the evening.

Every time you move to a new place, an opportunity presents itself. You can reinvent yourself, you can redefine your very essence if you really like. Sure, it can be done even if you're standing still, in the same place, but the transformation is more difficult, more pronounced. When you move, you can join the Witness Protection Program for all of the perks, with few of the detriments.

So, it's another lifetime I'm remembering. It's enough to lend credence to reincarnation, because I hardly recognize myself. The excited anticipation of spilling out of the subway at Penn Station and walking with east coast speed up the streets. The hot, thick air. Walking through this city like an explorer wading through overgrown brush. And there, in the clearing, the grandiosity of Lincoln Center. The giddy, skipping heartbeat, completely foreign now.

What can be discouraging in Manhattan is that people lack hobbies. No one has a pasttime; everyone has passions. People do not dabble in things, they are classically trained. Picking up things could come naturally to you, but you still felt seriously handicapped in this city. If you were into swing dancing and had not taken a class with Frankie Manning, or spent a Sunday at the Roseland ballroom, well, then, you were just a dilettante.

But on a hot, summer night, you found you did not care. In the shroud of the setting sun, when the dance lesson was over, and the band started to warm up, you were just grateful to be a part of it. The dance floor swarmed with people, especially when a Latin band was around. And that's when you saw the magic that can never be taught in classes.

It was in the music, and yet transcended the music. Those nights, live cumbia playing in the background, an intoxication settled over everyone. You don't need a drink to loosen you up when there are such sounds pulsing through your veins, pulling your heart out of your chest, propelling you onto the dance floor. You didn't know what you were feeling. Others did. They already knew and embraced the overwhelming wave, allowed it to sweep them away. Those were the ones you wanted to watch. You marvelled, mesmerized by the way the music and the man and the woman were all perfectly entwined. You can hear it in a certain beat, the taut snap of the thread between a dancer and his or her partner.

W used to say that there is no way to mask your emotions when you're dancing, that you can't hide happiness or sadness on the dance floor. Maybe. But you also can't be sad when certain music is playing, when certain nights present themselves, when someone is perfectly connected to you. You come home with your cheeks hurting from smiling.

I wonder if I could ever be that person again.

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